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4 graduates sitting down in job interview waiting room; image used for HSBC international services Study abroad 9 things before graduating article.

9 things to do before graduation

Finishing your degree? It's time to start planning the next stage of life beyond school. You're probably doing a lot of networking, updating your CV and job hunting. If you're staying on in your host country after you graduate, there's also visa applications to consider.

How else can you make the most of your time?

1. Network network network

Charlie Lawson, author of The Unnatural Networker: How anyone can succeed at networking, reminds us that networking can happen anytime, anywhere. Everyone you meet (and the people they know) represents potential relationships you might want to nurture. Understand why you're networking and pursue connections in a sincere manner. Are you looking for a mentor, hoping to garner more industry information, or are you in the market for an internship or a job when you graduate?

Contrary to popular belief, networking is not just about attending events, and nor is it about working the room. It's about establishing positive, and hopefully, long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial. And where's the best place to start sourcing for networking information and good events to show up to? Your school's career services office.

Thinking of furthering your studies? Here's the top reasons why this could be a good career move for you.

2. Tap into your school's resources

On that note, you should know everyone at the career services office on a first-name basis by the time you don your cap and gown. A career counsellor can really help you polish your CV, run through mock interviews and be a link for networking opportunities. Some companies, such as HSBC, host events on and off campus to meet with interested upcoming grads.

Harvard University's Office of Career Services takes career counselling to a whole new level - the Ivy League institution even holds workshops on negotiating job offers and employment contracts. The learning never seems to stop, even as you're out the door.

After graduation, don't forget you can still tap into your alma mater's resources through alumni events and even job fairs. After all, they want you to succeed, no matter what stage you're at in your career.

3. Update and polish your CV/résumé

These are actually different documents but the terms are used interchangeably in a few countries, such as in India, Australia, and South Africa. In North America, employers will ask for your résumé, unless you're applying for an overseas or academic job. In New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, as well as most of Europe, you'll be asked for your CV.*

What are the differences? A CV, or curriculum vitae, is Latin for 'the course of one's life'. It's a chronological account of your educational and employment history, awards, publications, academic papers and other accomplishments. A CV is a lot more comprehensive than a résumé and could top 20 pages for experienced execs. In contrast, résumé means 'summary' in French and should be just that: no more than 2 pages long. This document should be customised and concise, and it should describe your skills and experience related to the job you're applying for. Your CV, on the other hand, will remain static, except for when it's updated.

Don't give the hiring folks any reason to toss your application aside. Follow the preferred local format for CVs or résumés, and, of course, never, ever lie. Education credentials are the first and easiest thing for companies to check during the background check process.

*In this article, CV and résumé are used interchangeably throughout.

4. Apply for jobs

Aside from earning money, networking and gaining work experience, applying for jobs is the best way to hone your interviewing skills. You wouldn't go to an exam unprepared, or act on stage without rehearsing your lines, right? Preparing for a job interview is no different. As well as your CV and qualifications, an employer will use an interview to assess you as a person. How organised are you? Are you confident? How do you handle unexpected situations or obstacles? Did you prepare well?

Don't limit yourself to applying for full-time jobs. Use this time to apply for internships, volunteer positions and apprenticeships. It's good practice for customising your résumé to suit different purposes, which is what you'll need to do for every job application if you want to stand out.

After all this, congrats if you land a job! But if your application isn't successful, don't lose heart, because it's all a part of the process. The idea is to feel so comfortable crafting résumés and meeting with prospective employers - whether in person or virtually - that you'll ace your dream job interview when the time comes.

5. Collect references

A reliable reference can make or break a career opportunity, so choose carefully. In a survey, 70% of employers said they'd changed their mind about hiring a candidate because of their references. Almost half said it unfortunately left them with a less favourable opinion of the job seeker1.

A reference doesn't always have to be your former boss. Ask a mentor or a colleague if you think you've made a positive impression with them. When asked "competency-based questions", they should be able to cite specific examples that demonstrate your strengths.

Ask permission before using someone as a reference, and make sure they have a copy of your current résumé. A reliable reference should not be asking "Who?" when your name is mentioned. Ouch.

University professors are asked to write recommendation letters and be named as references all the time. They'll be more agreeable if you don't wait until the last minute to ask for yours. Again, if your professor couldn't pick you out of a crowd, it's probably a good idea to find someone who knows you better.

6. Consider a post-study work visa

Are you heading back home after graduation or staying put to look for work? Check your visa restrictions before your study visa expires and give yourself ample time to prepare for applications and submissions.

If you're studying full time in the UK, then you might know that you can work for up to 20 hours on a Tier 4 visa. Only 6% of students are aware that, as of summer 2020, they'll be able to stay on for 2 years after graduating when the post-study work (PSW) visa is reinstated2. In Canada, graduates can apply for a PSW visa that allows them to work for up to 3 years.

In the US, students can apply for the post-graduate Optional Practical Training programme. This allows them to work for 12 months in temporary employment in a field related to their studies.

Like any immigration or visa issue, students are advised to plan ahead. Again, don't forget to make your university's career services office the first stop for information.

7. Start your own business

If you can't find your dream job, why not create it by starting up your own business? Bill Gates enrolled at Harvard University to study law. Two years later, he was persuaded by friend and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to leave university to start up what is now a billion-dollar business. We're not telling you to drop out of school, but success doesn't always follow a straight line.

Other famous companies started up by college students include Facebook, Google and Time Magazine. While being your own boss sounds like everyone's dream, however, it can be very difficult to be in charge of the business from the ground up. As always, you need to consider the employment laws around working while studying, which will also apply to entrepreneurs.

In the UK, you don't need to open a different bank account when you start up a business. Planning on doing business in more than 1 currency? With an HSBC international account, you can manage up to 11 different currencies and move money instantly between your accounts in more than 15 countries and territories with HSBC Global Transfers. This service is free of charge for HSBC Jade clients and HSBC Premier customers.

8. Build your portfolio

It's one thing to say you've done a lot of work. It's another to show it. Make a positive first impression through a portfolio of your best writing pieces, artwork or designs. Even better: make this portfolio available online, so prospective employers can take a look easily and can even forward it through to someone who might have just the right job for you. You can add testimonials, a blog, photos, your social media links, or videos to your portfolio, as long as they're relevant. Let these speak volumes of your abilities and help you stand out among the crowd.

Maintaining your portfolio in an accessible format will ensure you keep it up to date. It should be a work in progress. Despite having more room for creativity, don't forget to keep it professional by checking for spelling mistakes and making sure there are no 404 page errors!

3 friends dancing on a dorm room bed; image used for HSBC International Services Study abroad article 9 things before graduation

9. Make memories

You didn't think we'd leave this one off the list, did you? Going to university, especially abroad, is also about having fun and making the most of the experience. Get swept up in school spirit and support your university's sports team. Join a social club, go on a road trip, and explore your host country.

Enjoy! These are some of the best years of your life.

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